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Machiavel - The Jester (LP)
 

Machiavel - The Jester (LP)

Price: $80.00 currently not available     
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Genre: progressive
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title:  Jester
Company: Harvest
Catalog: 4C 064-99289
Year: 1977
Country/State: Belgium
Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+
Comments: Belgian pressing; includes lyric insert; gatefold sleeve
Available: 1
Catalog ID: 6105
Price: $80.00

In 1977 I was a senior in high school, living in a suburb or Brussels, Belgium (Wezenbeek Oppem). One of my Belgian neighbors knew I was into rock and roll and tried to turn me on to the Belgian band Machiavel via their fist and second studio albums - 1976's "Machiavel" and 1977's "Jester". As a kid into The Doobie Brothers, Kansas, and more conventional American AOR bands, I have to admit I just didn't get the appeal of Machiavel; plus I have to admit the explicit "Jester" inner sleeve artwork credited to Celle kind of creeped me out. Anyhow, forward some forty year later and I stumbled across a copy of this album in a cut out bin at a local record store that was going out of business ... for a buck I was more than willing to revisit this group and see whether time had changed my tastes. Fate works in odd ways ...

Machiavel actually came together in 1974. The original line up featured former Moby Dick bassist Roland Degreef and singer/drummer Marc Ysaye, along with keyboardist Albert Letecheur, and lead guitarist Jack Roskam.

The band's sophomore album "Jester" was released after a pair of line up changes that saw the addition of new singer Mario Guccio and original guitarist Roskam replaced by Jean-Paul Devaux. Guccio was certainly better than Ysaye, but his shrieky, heavily accented voice took a bit of effort to get accustomed to and there's a good chance lots of folks will find it irritating as hell. His limited English also made for some interesting translations - check out 'The Jester' and 'Rock, Sea and Tree'. I'm guessing lots of this was learned and sung phonetically (not that I'd do any better if I had to sing in Flemish). That said, the rest of the band were quite impressive on a technical level. Degreef and Ysaye managed to power the band through even the band's most pretentious segments ('Wisdom'), while Devaux's rock-oriented lead guitar consistently surprised me, and Letecheur displayed an understated touch on synthesizers and keyboards. The personnel changes also didn't seem to have a major impact on the band's overall sound which remained heavily influenced by British progressive symphonic bands - you know the names. That said, this time around the group seemed far more comfortable in the studio with the seven extended songs coming off as more consistent than the debut.

- Opening up with some Atari-styled video game beeps and burps followed by some Pink Floyd-ish sound effects (ah a ticking clock - how original), 'Wisdom' took awhile to switch into gear but when the song actually got going it wasn't half bad; especially if you could deal with Guccio's voice. At least to my ears, the song's highlight came in the form of Devaux's nice guitar solo. I've heard the song dozens of times and read the lyrics just as often and still don't have a clue what the track's about. Anyone ? rating: *** stars
- Opening up with a surprisingly nice a-cappella segment, 'Sparkling Jaw' opened up into a Floyd-styled ballad with Devuax's tuneful guitar and Letecheur's synthesizer providing the highlights. The track then morphed into something that sounded a bit like an early Supertramp outtake. Doubt that comparison? Listen to Letecheur's jumpy Richard Davies-styled electric piano and Guccio's phrasing. Maybe not the most original thing you've ever heard, but surprisingly commercial. rating: *** stars
- The album's shortest composition, 'Moments' was also the most straightforward and commercial offering. Featuring a pretty folk-tinged acoustic ballad, this one could have generated some radio play. rating: *** stars
- 'In the Reign of Queen Pollution' offered up a mixture of bad sci-fi lyrics (surrounded by horrible pollution the human race mutates into a species born with faces that look like gas masks ...) which helped explain the weird inner sleeve artwork) ) and early Genesis styled music. Like the earlier 'Sparkling Jaw' this one also took a mid-song detour into Supertramp territory. rating: *** stars
- Once again the lyrics were a mystery to me, but the title track found the group adding a slightly jazzy touch to the mix. For anyone doubting the Supertramp comparison, check out Letecheur's keyboards on this one. rating: *** stars
- 'Mister Street Fair' was interesting for its intricate vocal arrangement, but the spotlight was clearly on Letecheur's synthesizers. rating: ** stars
- Clocking in just under ten minutes, 'Rock, Sea and Tree' was another track that started out slowly; just Guccio warbling some of the album's most pretentious lyrics over Letecheur on tinkling piano and light string synthesizer. Thankfully about two minutes in the song began morphing into a more up tempo number with fuller orientation (including Supertramp-styled keyboards). It didn't last with the song bouncing all over the place, though along the way Devaux's turned in his prettiest guitar solo. rating: *** stars

Far from a perfect album, but if you're going to dip your toe into Belgian progressive bands, or mid-1970s Eurorock, this is a pretty good place to start.

"Jester" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) Wisdom (Roland De Greef - Albert Letecheur) - 6:002.) Sparkling Jaw (Roland De Greef - Albert Letecheur) - 7:003.) Moments (Marc Ysaye - Roland De Greef ) - 3:174.) In the Reign of Queen Pollution (Roland De Greef - Albert Letecheur) - 6:54
(side 2)
1.) The Jester (Roland De Greef - Albert Letecheu) - 5:202.) Mister Street Fair (Marc Ysaye - Albert Letecheu) - 7:55
3.) Rock, Sea and Tree (Marc Ysaye - Albert Letecheu) - 9:52
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